Schools may provide students with a wealth of academic knowledge, but do they really think they have what it takes to outsmart children when it comes to social media?
The battle between educational institutions and social media's been brewing for years, but the latest attempt to prevent children from being distracted by their beloved mobiles? Straight-up laughable.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, four public schools in Madison, Wisconsin—East High School, Wright and Cherokee Middle schools, and West High School—are going so far as to shut down wi-fi connectivity for popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and over 30 others in order to determine just how heavily student behavior, grades, and overall school safety are impacted by personal internet usage.
"We are looking for ways to continually improve our school climate and increase student learning," Cindy Green, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Madison School District told the Wisconsin State Journal. "One way to do that is by trying to reduce the use of cellphones and social apps during the school day."
Essentially, the plan is as follows: From May until the end of the school year participating schools plan to cut wi-fi for social media apps, observe behavior of students, and gather feedback from those impacted, their educators, and families, to determine whether or not there should be a districtwide policy implemented.
Good luck with that, guys.
What's the real issue here?
Phones are distracting—we get it—but educators in participating schools claim phone usage is visibly inhibiting students' academic performance and leading to poor decisions.
"Our students who are the most disengaged are typically the ones who are stuck on their phones and walking the halls with their heads down," East principal Mike Hernandez told the Wisconsin State Journal. "I call it the zombie walk, and unfortunately it can lead to students making some poor choices on social media with Instagram or Facebook Live."
"It only takes a moment to take out your phone, click on an app and be live-streaming on Facebook Live,” Cherokee principal Sarah Chaja-Clardy said, explaining social media usage in schools can even be a violation of confidentiality rights and lead to suspension. "It’s not that kids are even on their phone, but they see an incident and their go-to (action) is to take out their phone and record it," she said.
While some students and parents heavily disagree with the decision to ban the social media sites, Hernandez says "it's a two-way street," and explained that students come to school to learn certain lessons that do not involve cell phones. Students will still have access to their school email accounts during the program, and can reach parents using their phones without wi-fi, so communication is not inhibited.
It's been a long time coming
The pilot program is a new approach, but the conundrum is extremely familiar.
Schools have been attempting to find a way for students to utilize the benefits of technology without encountering the costly distractions for years, but as social media becomes more and more popular, the pressure mounts.
Back in 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District secured a $30 million deal with Apple that allowed them to distribute iPads to students to be used in the classrooms. The catch? The devices contained software blocks to deter users from engaging in personal, leisurely internet usage.
Less than a week after getting the iPads, around 200 high schoolers discovered how to hack the devices and disable the blocks, and soon they were browsing Facebook like nobody's business.
Even in 2017, attempts to break up students and social media have taken place at schools like Howell High School in Michigan. Back in January the school banned Snapchat and sites like Twitter from the institution's wi-fi servers after school-related altercations were reportedly shared on social media.
Um, aren't you forgetting something?
This all sounds lovely, educators, except for one kind of huge thing—students can easily bypass the program by not relying on a wi-fi connection to use their apps. Trust us, they're smart. Have you heard of a little thing called data usage? And sure, excess usage could be costly but that's what unlimited data plans are for, right?
Apparently, the Wisconsin schools have thought this through, and they have a simple (but definitely not foolproof) solution.
Basically, they're asking parents to form an alliance.
School leaders and district officials have reportedly asked parents to assist them in the ambitious task of limiting students' in-school access to apps. "If your student's phone is on your data plan, you may wish to set data limits or restrict them from accessing data during school hours," Beth Thompson, principal of West High School sent home in an email to parents on Friday, informing them of the pilot program.
Green was also concerned with bills increasing as a result of students turning to data usage, so she hopes parents will take the necessary steps and address the issue by having a conversation about managing data and social media usage with their children.
Schools can limit wi-fi usage. They can ban phones, too. But the bottom line is, if students want to access the internet on their own personal mobile devices that badly, they'll find a way. Teenagers are nothing if not crafty.